A new approach to welfare advice and benefit applications has been launched by Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire. Not only digitising ‘high-volume’ benefit forms and embedding real-world advice, the BetterOff solution combines benefits with employment advice and thousands of job vacancies all within a single web portal.
BetterOff was designed in response to cuts in the council’s welfare advice budget. Instead of seeing this as purely a funding-driven challenge, Kirklees took the opportunity to employ all the capabilities that technology can offer, including real-time benefit calculators, remote form co-production (think benefit forms meet Google Docs), web chat and personalised comparisons of benefits vs. employment, making the whole process quicker, easier to understand and personally relevant to each claimant.
BetterOff is now the default place for all benefit claimants in Kirklees, apart from the most complex and vulnerable cases. On presentation, people are immediately directed to BetterOff either on their mobile, tablet, PC or the PCs supported by Kirklees customer service staff.
The site comprises four key areas: a benefits entitlement calculator provided by EntitledTo; applications and appeals; job search; and a job journal along with a range of supporting content around employment, interviews, CV writing, financial management and budgeting.
Once the claimant has completed the benefits calculator, they can see what benefits they are entitled to and are then presented with only the relevant forms for online completion. A range of ‘high volume’ forms have been deconstructed, digitised and made considerably easier to use. In consultation with experienced benefits advisors at the council, each process and its related form has been injected with advisors’ ‘real-life’ guidance and knowledge. This is a key element of the design and to make the system relevant to everyone, the advice comes in a variety of formats from text, to audio and video.
On the employment side of the platform, vacancies are brought in from Universal Jobmatch, a host of national job databases and local job sources. Claimants can search thousands of jobs; the resulting vacancies can then be compared with their entitlement calculation and show them how much better off they would be in work.
This comparison of benefits and vacancies is reported to be a UK first and could transform the way in which claimants are positively incentivised to consider going back into work. BetterOff also automatically pre-populates this activity into the claimant’s jobs journal in line with the government’s Claimant Commitment, as well as providing them with tools that help them record their wider job-searching efforts.
That the solution has been designed in clear view of the DWP is a key advantage; it is not a solution developed by a private sector outfit in isolation, but one designed from real-life experience by a large metropolitan council at the frontline of benefit delivery. Electronic submission of forms directly into DWP’s internal processes is now also being planned and work is underway to deliver universal credit forms via BetterOff.